Fernando Alonso of Ferrari won the rain-interrupted Malaysian Grand Prix to secure his first victory in 12 races and take the 2012 Formula One world championship lead after two events.
Alonso held off Sauber’s Sergio Perez by 2.2 seconds at Sepang International Circuit yesterday in a race that was suspended for 51 minutes after nine laps when rain soaked the track. McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton, who started from pole position, was third.
Alonso’s 28th career victory was the first for Ferrari since the Spaniard won the British Grand Prix in July and lifted the former world champion atop the drivers’ standings with 35 points in a car he has described as “uncompetitive.”
“It was a big surprise, the win,” Alonso, who took the title in 2005 and 2006, said in a televised news conference. “We maximized the potential we had in our hands, keeping calm in some extreme conditions. It’s a tough time for us at the moment, but this is a Sunday we will remember.”
Perez was challenging Alonso for the lead when he ran over a curb with six laps remaining, potentially costing him his first career win. His second-place finish collected more points than he managed in the entire 2011 season.
He’s the first Mexican driver to secure a podium place in a Formula One race since Pedro Rodriguez finished second in the Netherlands 41 years ago. It was also Sauber’s best result as an independent team since Bayerische Motoren Werke AG quit the sport at the end of the 2009 season.
“I was catching Fernando towards the end,” Perez said. “I ran wide in the quick left-hand corner and I touched the curb and went onto the dirty side. It was completely wet and I lost the win probably.”
Mark Webber of Red Bull finished fourth ahead of Kimi Raikkonen of Lotus and Williams’ Bruno Senna. Force India’s Paul di Resta, Jean-Eric Vergne of Toro Rosso, Nico Hulkenberg in the other Force India car and Michael Schumacher of Mercedes rounded out the top 10.
Defending world champion Sebastian Vettel of Red Bull finished out of the points in 11th, three spots ahead of McLaren’s Jenson Button, who won the season opener in Australia on March 18.
“Pretty much everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong,” Button, who struggled with the grip on his tires and also damaged his car in a collision, said in a team statement. “It’s always going to be tough when you’re down in 14th or 15th position.”
‘Like a Lake’
Alonso started in eighth place in the race, which was halted in the ninth of 56 laps because of the wet conditions. Button described one of the sections of the track as being “like a lake” over the team radio.
The race resumed behind the safety car for four laps with all cars fitted with wet-weather tires. While drivers including Hamilton and Button then went into the pits to change to intermediate tires, Perez stayed out on the wet tires to take the lead.
Hamilton dropped to 10th place following his tire change and Button slipped to the back of the field after damaging his front wing in a collision with HRT driver Narain Karthikeyan that forced him to return to the pits.
Alonso then overtook Perez to hit the front. The Spaniard increased his advantage to more than seven seconds at the halfway mark, though Perez cut the margin to 3.9 seconds with 20 laps remaining.
Alonso pitted on the 40th lap to allow Perez to temporarily take the lead before the Mexican came in on the next lap. Perez closed the gap over the next 10 laps before his mistake gave Alonso a five-second cushion with which he was able to seal his third win in Malaysia.
The win moved Alonso ahead of Jackie Stewart for fifth place all-time. He trails Schumacher, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Nigel Mansell.
The next event in the 20-race calendar, the Chinese Grand Prix, is scheduled April 15 in Shanghai.
“Our aim was damage limitation for these early races of the championship and now we even find ourselves leading the classification,” Alonso said in a team statement. “Now we absolutely have to improve the performance starting right away with the races in China and Bahrain.”